Sorting Out The Citroëns

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Gradually, in recent times, indeed, with growing frequency, gaps in the one-make histories are being filled in. Nevertheless, some serious omissions remain. For instance, we have had a history of the Renault brothers, but nothing comprehensive about Renault cars. Voisin has published his informative autobiographies, covering his automobile and aeronautical creations, but these have not seen a complete translation into English, and so far the long-promised biography of André Citroën has eluded us.

But now an excellent commentary on the Citroën car has been issued by the company’s Publicity Department in Paris, which throws much light on a complex range of models from a manufacturer who has always been something of an enigma, so far as matters emanating from within the factories are concerned. It is right and proper that the pre-war Citroëns should be written-up, because, if they were never particularly significant cars technically, they were exceedingly popular numerically and thus, like the Bull Nose Morrises, which have such an excellent volume all to themselves, and the Austins, of which Wyatt has already comprehensively documented the Seven and whose Complete History of Longbridge is eagerly awaited, they fully deserve to go on record.

This big volume from the Citroën publicity archives covers the models of 1919 to 1939, so we have to forego the pleasure of reading about how the great post-war models from 2 c.v. to DS were evolved and developed.

The models the book does deal with, however, are well covered, with long specifications of each and very interesting, if brief, historical introductions. The first part of “Citroën-1919-1939” is devoted to 29 large colour side-views of well-known models, part art-work, part diagrammatic, certainly very artistic, on the lines of the well-known Hugh Evelyn colour-plates.

These plates range from the 1919 type A 10 h.p. tourer to the 1924 and 1931 “half-tracks”, and include the record-breaking 1933 “Petite Rosalie”, the 1922 B2 Caddy Sport—for those who forger that even Citroën once made a sporting model—and a 1927 B14 taxi. That chosen for the dust-jacket is a picture of the lemon-yellow 1922 Type C 5 h.p.

Some interesting and hitherto little-known facts emerge from the text, although, as is to be expected of publicity literature, all models are described in glowing terms. We are reminded in the Introduction that claimed Citroën “firsts” include “all-steel body (1926), vacuum-servo brakes (1926), six-cylinder, four-bearing engine (1928), rubber-block engine mountings, low-pressure tyres, synchromesh gearboxes, choke-fitted carburetters, hydraulic shock-absorbers with thermostatic correction, box-frame chassis with hollow members, monocoque body construction (1932), i.f.s, by torsion bars (1933), rocker-operated o.h, valves and removable wet-sleeve cylinder liners, monocoque body and chassis construction, f.w.d., f.w. hydraulic brakes (1934), rack-and-pinion steering, inertia dampers and longitudinally interconnected suspension (1948), hydropneumatic suspension (1953), auxiliary centrifugal clutch (1954), disc brakes, mass adoption of hydraulic controls, etc.” I am not taking sides, and historians will probably raise a protesting pen here and there. But Citroën have built some very advanced and successful cars, and still do, and, of course, Rolls-Royce are pleased to use their power hydraulic braking.

In the book under review a wide range of models is dealt with, such as the B14F, B14G, B18, AC4, C4F, C4G MPF and all the others of a range so complicated that this book is a most useful source for sorting them out.

Some forgotten or never-known items of information come to light, such as the fact that the Caddy Sport differed from the ordinary B2 Citroën of 1922 in having o.h. valves, giving an increase of 2 b.h.p. and a maximum speed of 56 m.p.h. against 43½ m.p.h., so that it did possess some claim to being a sports car, the advent of coil ignition in 1922, in which year exchange units became available, but of over-hauled, not new, components as today, the party organised for Charles Lindbergh at the Quai de javel workshops in 1927, the Eifel Tower advertising, the advent, and publicising, of the first 6-cylinder Citroëns and of “Floating Power” in 1929 and 1932 respectively, the fact that the revolutionary new f.w.d. Citroëns of 1934 (launched in 1931) nearly had Sensaud de Lavaud automatic transmission to add to their other ingenuities, Francois Lecot’s run of some 250,000 miles in 1935 to publicise these new 11 h.p. front-drive models, and so on.

The Half Tracks and the long-distance record-breaking “Rosalie I”, “Rosalie II” and “Little Rosalie” Citroëns stemming from an independent Yacco oil project, get pages to themselves. We are reminded, too, of the 7UA and 11UA models, built between January, 1935, and July, 1938, as rear-wheel-drive cars using f.w.d. components, for customers still hesitant about the novelty of the latter, and of the 22CV, intended to have a 3.8-litre V8 engine using 11BL cylinder blocks, of which some 20 prototypes were built before the project was abandoned in favour of the F.W.D. models, although the engine was never finalised and testing was done using a Ford V8 power unit.

This is both a very fascinating and a very informative book, which sets a splendid example to other manufacturers who have not yet got their histories written and published. As Editor Delpire says of this Citroën between-wars history, this book, dedicated to some 45 million men and women who have driven Citroëns, fills in some gaps in a century which “seeks reassurance by looking for precedents and antecedents; it spends its time feverishly classifying, filing and taking stock (with what liquidation in view?).”

Whether from the point of view of eventual liquidation or because of take-over bids which spell the end of individual makes, companies whose histories remain unwritten are urged to make haste. At present this excellent Citroën book is not available outside the organisation, and you are requested not to apply for a copy, but it is hoped that towards the end of this year it will be on sale through the usual channels.—W. B.

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